The all-new 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class brims with breakthrough tech, from incredible biometric-sensing that pulls up driver presets based on fingerprint, voice or facial recognition to multi-hue LEDs that illuminate the cockpit and make phased changes depending on the driver’s desire. Perhaps the most impressive update is the company’s development of rear-seat airbags that deploy from the back panels of the front passenger seats. This has never been done in any other vehicle before, partly because it required massive engineering. Front airbags in a car are designed to deploy from a fixed point in relation to the front seats, they will fill the gap between driver and front-seat passenger pretty much wherever the seats are raked to, but according to engineers at Mercedes-Benz, protecting rear-seat passengers presented a far greater challenge.
First, the front seat uprights may be tilted in a far greater variety of angles than any dashboard. The airbag has to deploy so that it acts like a pillow no matter the angle of that front seat, but if you’re the driver and have your seat upright or you like it very relaxed, the airbag still has to protect the rear passenger’s head and torso. Mercedes, via a spokesperson, tells us, “In addition, children and adults sit very differently in the rear of a vehicle. Therefore, particular attention was given to a gentle deployment of the airbag in case people or objects are in the deployment zone.”
The Mercedes-Benz team has learned a lot since the first airbags for drivers debuted in an S-Class in 1980, and testing over the decades has led them to understand how the structures that allow airbags to inflate and deflate have to be malleable in order to allow their proper deployment. This was crucial for the rear-seat airbag because second-row passengers may be positioned very differently—and might be using gaming devices, phones or other items—so the tubes that feed the airbags were specifically designed to collapse when they meet a person, or an object. There may also be a rear-facing child seat in that second row, so it was critical to ensure no level of force meant to cushion would instead cause harm.
In addition, because the rear-seat area of the new S-Class is cavernous, (unlike for a driver or front passenger, whose airbags are backed by the firm surfaces of the steering wheel and dash) the second-row airbags have been designed to reduce whiplash by anticipating the “throw” of the head and neck, and in conjunction with the seatbelt, can significantly lessen the load on the upper torso and skull. Mercedes-Benz also offers the addition of an airbag in the seatbelt. All of these features together can reduce the force and impact of an accident.
The S-Class also gets one other safety feature to augment the rear-seat airbags called PRE-SAFE Impulse Side. It’s a new addition to the suite of PRE-SAFE protection that responds to side impact by inflating air chambers and moving you away from the impact zone. By literally moving you further from the source of impact you are more protected from potential injuries.
As with past pioneering safety firsts, we ask Mercedes if they have plans to share these advancements with other carmakers, and they commented that while no other manufacturers have expressed an interest yet, they are “open to spreading the technology across the market.”
Images courtesy of Mercedes-Benz